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Research: From selecting a topic to writing the bibliography

Use this guide for assistance with all aspects of the research process.

What is a research question?

Once you have selected a topic, you need to develop a research question. You may be used to working with a thesis statement, but a thesis statement is an answer. If you start your research with an answer, you might miss something important or your paper might be too one-sided. Starting with a question allows you to explore your topic while still having it clearly defined. 

A good research question is specific and focused.

Topic: Netflix

Research Question: How has the rise of streaming television changed the nature of advertising during television shows?

Topic: the environmental impact of fracking

Research Question: What are some of the most effective ways of protecting local ground water from the waste water produced by fracking?

Tip: Beware of research questions that are too broad or too narrow.

Too Broad: Why is reality television so popular?

Too Narrow: What are the economic and social consequences of the popularity of Jersey Shore on the lives of teenagers living in Omaha, Nebraska? 

Tip: be willing to tweak your research question as you go.

Research Question: How has the rise of streaming television changed the nature of advertising during television shows?

Potential Research Finding: Advertising during television hasn't changed much recently.

New Research Question: Why has advertising on television been able to remain the same when how we watch television has changed so much?


Examples of Research Questions

The assignment is a 10-15 page paper relying primarily on scholarly resources.

Too Broad

  • How is malaria treated?
  • Will tablet computing replace the need for laptops?

Too Narrow

  • How much has the popularity of Harry Potter improved the reading scores of second graders in Missouri?
  • At what point in time will the need for nurses in pedatric wards outpace the graduation rates from nursing schools?

Just right

  • In what ways have online communities changed the nature of support systems available for people with Attention Deficit Disorder?
  • How has mountaintop removal mining in western Kentucky impacted the migratory habits of the local bird population?
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